by Dan Swanson
When they reappeared, Wizzo the Wizard, the throne, and Red Rocket were on the bottom of Lake Michigan — or, more accurately, deep in the layer of slimy muck that covered the bottom of the lake. Rocket’s breathing mask automatically deployed and purged itself, but he still had muck all over his face and in his mouth and nose — and it was the most disgustingly slimy, smelly crud he could imagine. He prayed that there was nothing toxic in this crap as he spit repeatedly to clean out his mouth.
He could see nothing, and his echolocation wasn’t working — this stuff was too thick, and it absorbed the signal rather than reflecting it. He switched his visible light searchlight on and jacked up the candles, and he started to see a glimmering of light from where he thought his hand should be. He jacked up the power again, and now he could see a foot or so. He lunged forward and was rewarded when he bashed into Wizzo, and wrapped both arms around him.
The wizard was enclosed in some kind of magical bubble that protected him from the water and gunk. But he couldn’t see any better than Rocket could, and he was close to panicking, because he couldn’t find the throne — though he still held onto the staff. Rocket finally turned the searchlight up to full power, and Wizzo was relieved that he could still reach his throne. He had hoped that Red Rocket would drown in this environment, but Rocket was adapting better to it than he was. Well, he had a few tricks left. He touched the gem again, and again they vanished.
This time they reappeared in the middle of a blinding blizzard and well-below-zero temperatures. Wizzo was still protected by his force-bubble, but Red could feel the muck freezing on his costume. He would soon be unable to move, frozen motionless inside a solid icy shell.
Red switched the searchlight to infrared and left it at the full eight million candles. Even though he was aiming it at the ground at his feet, the air around him quickly warmed, and his icy coating melted. He managed to shift his grip to an arm bar, pinning both Wizzo’s arms together behind his back, and he grabbed the staff with the other hand. Hand-to-hand combat was clearly not Wizzo’s forté. But he wriggled around and managed to touch the gem one more time. Once again the duo, the throne, and the staff vanished.
Now they reappeared high above the Earth. Red Rocket was already on internal atmosphere, so the vacuum didn’t bother him, and Wizzo was still enclosed in his magical bubble. Rocket had always been an outer space freak, and when he saw the Earth so far away, and yet so close he could almost touch it, he was momentarily stunned by the incredible blue and white beauty. His moment of inaction, and the slimy goo still covering his costume, allowed Wizzo to slip out of the arm bar and regain his staff. Wizzo was extremely disoriented by the lack of gravity, and with Rocket now hanging onto the staff, Wizzo was unable to use it to cast any spells.
In a way, Wizzo was very disappointed. He had been hoping that one of these three dangerous environments would have at least severely hampered Red Rocket, allowing him to attack, but Red’s costume gave him protection and support at least equivalent to Wizzo’s magic. In another way, though, Wizzo was glad Rocket was such a worthy opponent. And he still had a couple more tricks in reserve.
One last touch of the gem, and one last teleport — to the final battleground.
They were back where they started, in fact: the vast underground room in Wizzo’s cavern hideout. The unexpected return of gravity caught Red Rocket by surprise, and he staggered and fell, releasing the staff while trying to regain his balance.
Tom Atomic was glad to see his partner, and yelled over the radio, “Hey, Red! Where you been? Been playing in the mud, I see! You OK?”
“I think I picked this crud up from the bottom of Lake Michigan. We gotta work on the breathing masks, though — mine filled up with this crap, and God, does it stink! How about you?”
“Couple cracked ribs, I think, and various bumps and bruises. Not too bad.”
Rocket laughed. “Hell, you’ll be good as new tomorrow!”
Wizzo ignored the heroes. He started to chant and then swung the staff toward the throne.
“Ghdang howwof orulht uohnol huolfo kkyakg, ghewoh nolhuo lfokky akgxoh hnupiu lupyug xuvalu!”
Suddenly, the entire cavern was filled with warriors — warriors from many ages, mighty warriors drawn from every stage of Atlantean civilization. These were warriors with armor ranging from animal skins, to studded leather, to bronze chain, to polished steel plate, to what looked like high-impact plastic, warriors with every weapon imaginable — spears, bow and arrow, crossbow, blunderbuss, swords, daggers, clubs, maces, and what looked like modern machine guns and even futuristic energy weapons. There were warriors of both genders, warriors of all sizes, warriors as varied as they could be, yet they all shared two characteristics: they made no sounds, and they stood motionless.
“If we live until tomorrow!” Rocket finally finished his thought.
Tom Atomic was a little annoyed. “So why is this creep still conscious? You losin’ your touch?””
Rocket sounded apologetic. “Sorry, he’s a tricky one. How about a strategic retreat, maybe covering our butts with the strobe trick?”
“Umm… maybe we won’t have to. Looks like something’s gone wrong — none of these guys are moving, and your buddy doesn’t look very happy!”
“Hey, he’s no buddy of mine!” Rocket protested. Fascinated, the two heroes continued to watch Wizzo closely. He was putting on quite a show.
Wizzo the Wizard was livid with rage, screaming at the unmoving warriors. “I am your master! You will obey me and attack my enemies! The throne of Atlantis is mine!”
Inside his head, a dry, crackling voice whispered, “Fool! You demanded the warriors of Atlantis, and that’s what you got. But they will only obey a true king of Atlantis!”
“Shut up, you doddering idiot! This power is mine! These warriors will obey me, or they will suffer!” He chanted again.
Red Rocket took advantage of the delay to fly to Tom Atomic’s side. “Maybe we oughtta get out of here while we can, Tom. See if we can contact ‘Mr. Mountaintop’ for a little help before we come back.”
Tom Atomic shook his head. “Just a few seconds longer…”
Wizzo didn’t disappoint them. He was chanting again.
“Ghewwd anghow wgekka elvhtu gufokk yakgfy htmoyl wenwno pugelh ynhtui axuipi akvukg xuvalu!”
A lake of flames filled the room, and many of the assembled warriors screamed in agony. But none of them moved to attack.
Volthoom couldn’t resist a chance to gloat. “Fool! The essences of the emperors and empresses preserved in the Atlantean throne battle you. Have you not noticed how ineffective our spells have been since you drew power from the throne? I tried to warn you, but you–“
“SILENCE!” Wizzo used magic to amplify his voice, and the entire chamber rumbled. He chanted again.
“Ghewwd anghow wgynul zuhtua nvwaan xuvalu!”
“It’s a mistake!” the voice in his head screeched, but then was silenced.
Wizzo turned to the two heroes. “You gnats have bothered me long enough. Your time has come! Staff, smash these two from the face of the earth!”
He slammed the staff to the ground, but nothing happened. Of course, he was rattled and had chanted in English. He quickly repeated the gesture, and this time chanted in Atlantean.
“Dangho wwgpog thtugu hfawka phtuwo zuawht uuokht xuvalu!”
He had almost finished the spell, when disaster occurred. The staff was still providing magical power to the fires torturing the magical warriors, and the falling power level in the staff triggered the automatic magical safeguard spell he had cast on it not long ago. The staff opened the pocket dimension and swapped places with Wizzo’s emergency staff.
When the pocket dimension closed again, all the current spells that had been drawing power from the staff immediately ceased. The Atlantean warriors vanished, as did the lake of flame.
But Wizzo was unable to stop his chant or his gesture. As the spell was completed, all the power in the emergency staff was blasted at the two heroes.
The heroes perceived this magical blast as a gigantic fist moving toward them at tremendous speed, so fast that even Tom Atomic didn’t have a chance to move. The blast hit them, and for an instant, it felt as if they were standing in front of a barrage of fire hoses — they were battered backward through the air.
But the blast lasted for less than a second, then vanished as if it had never existed. The armor cloth of their costumes had protected them. But why had the spell done so little damage? Wizzo had been channeling his own considerable power through the staff, adding it to power already in the staff and drawing power from the throne as well. The staff would have been able to handle that load, but the emergency staff could not. As the power had poured through the staff, it had simply disintegrated, and when it fell apart, so had its final spell.
The magical shock caused by the sudden disintegration of his weapon hit Wizzo like a truck, blasting him senseless, and he tumbled to the ground, unconscious.
As the two heroes flew toward his unconscious form, Red Rocket had a realization. He flew a little faster and did a quick loop to show off how clean that last spell had left his costume.